July 14, 2023
I thought I could hear music again but I tried not to pay attention to it. It was natural for my senses to play tricks on me when everything seemed both familiar and strange, extremely beautiful but truly frightening. I shielded my eyes with my hand and looked around after the two suns. I thought one of them should have been right behind me, somewhere in the direction whence we came, only it wasn’t there anymore. Nothing was. An empty expanse furnished by an occasional rock here and there. In the sky, the big sun that looked like ours stood now alone in its proper place, as if it was a little after noon. A moon bigger than ours stood at the horizon just above the line the sea formed with the coast, its lower part shining in turquoise shades. I knew, however, it wasn’t exactly a moon. It was a sister of the planet we were on. This thought brought me back to reality and back to Fox.
I couldn’t see her very well in the blinding light of this younger sun. It was hard to actually see her just as she really was. She was sitting carefree, as if she was next to a cool ocean, back home, not beside a molten-lava sea, able to obliterate us with its hot vapors at the smallest gust of wind. There was no wind, though—at least, not then—and her profile fitted perfectly in this weird-looking place. I would have taken a picture but as I was reaching absentmindedly for my pocket, I felt a small earth-rumbling beneath my feet. Just like an earthquake only softer. It was enough for me, however, to make me itchy with impatience, wanting to get out of there, yet not knowing where I wanted to go instead.
I approached Fox slowly. Not only because I needed an explanation for everything that had happened but also because I truly missed her. Somehow, in this faraway world, I felt there was a chance for us to get close again.
But Fox got up, straightened her back, and looked directly at me as if piercing directly into my mind. Trying to hold her gaze, I saw that it wasn’t the Fox I knew who stood before me, petite-framed, with an almost always warm expression yet occasionally mischievous, the one with whom I had done so many things. Things we were allowed to do and, more importantly, things we weren’t allowed to do. Fox, whom I had yearned for with all my being for so long. No, she was now a completely different being, tall, athletic, with red-tinted skin speckled with iridescent dots that shone in the yellow light of the star with an unnatural glow.
‘I think that’s the way we should go if we want to meet him.’
Her voice wasn’t familiar either, its inflections slightly higher than Fox’s. Still, the way she articulated every word, the specific way in which she punctuated the phrase, and the way she pointed with her hand like it was an extension of her shoulder, her head turned in the same direction, made me think that on the inside it was still her.
‘Who did we come for?’ she looked at me with a look that said you know exactly who I’m talking about.
Her eyes we unfamiliar. I came closer and I realized her strangeness wasn’t apparent. It wasn’t a trick played by the light or by my mind… they were completely different than human eyes: a little bit bigger than normal human eyes, with bushy long eyelashes, especially the top ones, and the pupils were somewhat like those of a cat: a narrow slit surrounded by a huge emerald-green iris with purple inserts. It was a true wonder made to be contemplated. And that was what I did until, ticked off by my curiosity and by the amazement with which I moved my eyes from one of her features to another, she went ahead in the direction she had previously shown me. I went after her because I knew that’s what she wanted and, in the end, what I wanted too.
Where the molten lava met the land, it sometimes seemed as if the earth was bleeding and, from what I could tell, it had done that for the past few million years. As we were approaching the edge of the coast we could feel the heat intensifying… and not quite. And this doubting state, the questions that popped into my head one after the other almost at every step, started to torment me and to dim the joy and wonder you could feel when you step for the first time into the completely alien place you have always dreamed of. After a while, walking along the coast, practically going towards The Third Home—the moon with bluish hues, now only half visible—not feeling as if we were getting anywhere, always keeping the same distance between me and Fox, her company meaning only that I could contemplate the back of her new form, I felt in the end overwhelmed by the questions that I had in my mind, so, with emphasis on every word, I asked simply:
‘Where are we headed?’
‘To find the Three-Eared Rabbit.’
‘You know that’s not his name,’ I said without thinking.
‘Then what is?’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ I said ticked off because I fell for it.
‘Then that’s how we’re calling him until you’ll decide on another name.’
‘Fine. Where do we find him, then?’
‘The rabbit? Probably in a burrow.’
She started to laugh out loud at her own joke, thinking it was funnier than it actually was, probably because she desperately tried to keep her calm and cool. A realization was setting in, that all this was maybe just as new for Fox as it was for me if not, perhaps, even more so. When her laugh died down she answered simply that we’ll see but you probably already know where he is. I wanted to reply, to contradict her, but right then I felt as if from somewhere deep inside me something was gently whispering to me, and I thought that I knew indeed where we were going. And then the thought slipped away.
We were walking for quite a while when something that from a distance seemed like a narrow path came into view. However, unlike other paths, what lay before me now seemed to have a completely different aura. Partially covered by the hot clouds forming above the lava, this path sent a faint glow towards us, every now and then, as if it were some kind of creature with scales shifting from side to side, reflecting the sunlight that had slightly changed its position. As we got closer, however, I realized that what awaited us was no ordinary path. And it certainly wasn’t narrow. It was rather something I would call a wonder of the world, one that I couldn’t explain and was entirely unfamiliar to me. Undulating like a serpent in the scorching heat of the vapors rising from the sea, stood before us a colossal bridge made of colorless glass, but sparkling with every ray of light that caressed its surface, tinted by its light. And its expanse led far away, somewhere beyond the horizon, cleaving the sea in two on its uninterrupted journey.
Fox looked at the bridge kind of like when you see something that you’ve only heard about for the first time. We both looked at it without making a sound because we were not only amazed by such a construction that surpassed everything we had seen before, but also by the boundless yet inhospitable beauty of what seemed more than just an architectural piece: we had before us a perfect work of art that spoke so much in so few lines. It was as if nature itself had contributed to something that people believed they were experts in, and behold, they truly seemed to be. I would have wondered who built this marvel—and how magnificent this world must have been if it crafted such a jewel—if I hadn’t felt overwhelmed by the completely otherworldly spectacle in front of me. The immense glass bridge writhed gently in this hell of fire, and its breath filled the sea to the horizon, menacing, tainted here and there by smoke and sulfur and small flakes of ash coughed out by a stray balloon of air, escaped from the nearly solid sea. In front of us, wherever you looked you could only see this: lava and fire and death, and a path of glass. It was as if the purpose of the bridge was not to take you to the other side but to remind you of how fragile life is and how it could be swallowed at any moment by its other face.
We reached the entrance to the bridge and saw Fox looking for something, somewhere to the right. Right at the edge of the bridge, at its intersection with the rocky shore, and extending into the sea of lava, stood a sort of outpost, an apparently official building that had some large panels periodically displaying information written in a language I didn’t recognize. As we approached, we noticed that from the shade of one of the panels, the timid foot of a lounge chair emerged, with its resident leisurely dangling their paws to one side. Every now and then, one of the paws twitched, as if tickled by a fly. However, I didn’t see any flies, just as I hadn’t seen any other living creatures besides myself and Fox around there yet.
When we got right next to the panel, Fox slapped the lounge chair’s furry resident over one of its paws and spoke a few words that I didn’t understand—they seemed equally foreign and distant to me. It was as if I heard music coming from somewhere again, and suddenly I found myself overcome by a state of confusion. But above all, a drowsiness that was hard to overcome took hold of me.
‘It’s from the smoke, the toxic fumes. And it’s quite likely due to the heat as well. It’s hotter than usual, and the new circuits sometimes malfunction,” the creature said.
I looked at what stood before me for a long time, its face swollen from sleep and bearing an amused expression. It was an inbred of a raccoon and a beaver, with a dwarfish yet cute frame, yet pseudo-human, which reminded me of some cartoons I had seen long, long ago before I even knew Fox.
‘I’m usually quite lively, but when it’s this hot and there are more fumes, I can’t cope. I have no choice but to doze off, pinned down for hours in this lounge chair, from one traveler to another,’ the creature said.
‘Who pins you down?’ I asked, attempting to strike up a conversation to keep myself from dwelling on how unreal everything that was happening to me felt.
‘No, dear, no one pins me down. You didn’t it quite right.’ But his eyes only showed how he regretted being so outspoken.
He turned around quite suddenly, as if remembering he had something on the stove or as if someone had called him, and he entered through a door that was slightly hidden by the information panel, which I now noticed for the first time. He poked his head out and signaled to Fox, who didn’t wait to be called twice. When they came out, after about 5 minutes during which I thought I heard some whispers, both of them looked slightly changed. More relaxed. Together, we circled towards the right side of the glass building and arrived in front of two immense doors that were now wide open, revealing a massive creature inside, about the size of an African elephant, but looking more like a grizzly bear on steroids. However, the way it moved immediately made me realize that it was neither one nor the other, but rather some kind of robotic wild animal. I wanted to scream or jump aside, but all I did was stand still, feeling a deep panic penetrate the darkest corners of my mind and shake them vigorously until nothing remained intact. Until even greater exhaustion overwhelmed me, rendering me inert, like a vegetable. It was a somehow familiar sensation from the time when Fox’s father died and our lives changed again by 180 degrees, as they had done before, only this time more for the worse than for the better. In the artificial calm that I didn’t even know how I had acquired, so to speak, I felt my consciousness somewhat half-active, as if the other half was in a state of hibernation, still waiting, like a wounded animal, for a chance to escape.
Fox glanced at me out of the corner of her eye, but she didn’t say anything. Instead, she went to the robotic animal that seemed to be our means of transportation from now on. My confused mind couldn’t fully comprehend the conversations happening around me, and it had somehow started to give up trying. However, I had begun to imagine various scenes in which I was dressed like a Bedouin traveler, riding on the mechanized bear through the sea of lava, dreamlike vapors distorting the image and making me smile a tired and slightly ironic smile at what passed before my eyes.
She called out to me, and I snapped out of the increasingly immersive daydreaming state I had fallen into as if my body had a mind of its own. I looked at this incredible bear and couldn’t quite figure out what its fur could be made of. It looked slightly artificial, perhaps because it was too well-groomed, too shiny, too perfect for a real bear. Of course, I didn’t have much experience with real bears. I hadn’t been to a zoo since high school. Our parents had taken us there on a weekend with beautiful spring weather, just to spend some time together as a family. Both Fox and I were going through that crazy phase where all you want is to grow up and get away from your parents because it seems like that’s the only way you can be who you think you should be. Obviously, like any teenager, we still turned to mom and dad when we had a problem.
I caught myself running my fingers through the bear’s fur and thinking intensely about the past. I felt as if I was myself again, although the music was still playing in the background, its volume fluctuating as if the source of the sound kept moving. I managed to gather myself a bit and asked without giving it too much thought:
‘And how do we climb on it?’
Fox looked at me wide-eyed as if she wanted to laugh but held back. She mumbled something that I couldn’t comprehend, a kind of open sesame, except the type of magic that responded was man-made: a high-tech creature that, upon hearing the command, lowered itself slightly, leaving beneath it just enough space to fit the stairs that formed as its belly opened. It was like a door with stairs on its inward side, revealing an entirely empty world as if it hadn’t been furnished and ready to use yet. I was slightly surprised that there was no seat, no control lever, no windshield to see through. Encouraged by Fox, I climbed the three steps on the right side, while she went to the left, even though she could have climbed on the right like me just as easily. I slightly raised my eyebrows, but it didn’t matter: whatever I would see from here on, I decided that it wouldn’t amaze me anymore. It was as if I had just acquired a kind of immunity to oddities. A sort of nothing surprises me anymore regarding everything around me, let alone the little quirks of Fox’s behavior. And despite my go-with-the-flow mentality, I couldn’t help but ask her why a bear? Her response was to raise her eyebrows as well and curve the corners of her mouth downward, one of her characteristic expressions of I don’t know and I don’t care, which made me feel less bothered by the strange form she had.
To be honest I started to think that those cat eyes were a perfect fit for her usual behaviour. And to be even more honest, I couldn’t quite remember exactly what Fox was like as a person anymore because we didn’t spend as much time together as we used to. Her skin, on the other hand, looked far too peculiar. So peculiar that it was almost a surprise to me every time I looked at her. And only now did I notice the dress she was wearing, which began to capture my attention because it seemed to resemble the garments of the statues I had seen at museums or on television. It was made of a single piece that folded and gathered gently into a brooch made of mother-of-pearl and of liquid metal continuously undulating under the dim light of the yellow star. Her waist was accentuated by a belt of the same peculiar metal, which occasionally seemed to come alive, cascading down her thigh in an abstract yet vibrant explosion. And then, after putting on its show, it slowly retreated back into the waist, patiently waiting for another opportunity to shine.
Everything seemed new, otherworldly, and magical to me. But the natural way Fox behaved, the completely uninhibited manner in which she moved, spoke, blinked… all of that reassured me and made me feel more at home in this bizarre world that I had created I don’t even know how many years ago, and of which I had almost completely forgotten.
Except for him. I knew I couldn’t forget him.
Now both of us were on board the four-legged vehicle. Something I wouldn’t have believed possible. It felt completely foreign and incomprehensible to me. Fox looked at me, smiled as if she was about to blow my mind, and said a few words. They must have been vocal commands for the vehicle because almost immediately after she finished speaking, the doors closed, and the space around us began to undulate and constrict. For a moment, I felt slightly claustrophobic, but once I realized what was happening, I relaxed completely: the previously black and empty space transformed so that each of us had a sort of shell-like seat with a consistency and texture resembling foam, then reclined back slightly. It was something I had never felt before, but it seemed perfect, and I thought that all car seats should be like that. Once I realized how comfortable I felt, the material it was made of stopped moving, as if it read my mind, and decided that any change from now on could only be for the worse. As we settled into our seats, I noticed a fine mist descending over our chests, hips, and legs, which then solidified into a transparent and extremely silky veil. I thought it could be some sort of seatbelt, but I didn’t feel restrained in any way. On the contrary, I had an even greater sensation of comfort, if that was even possible. After the few seconds I spent inside the belly of the robot bear, I realized I would never feel comfortable in a regular car again if I ever believed it was possible to end up in one.
I heard Fox giving another command. Suddenly, the universe appeared all around us, so black and complete that for a second, I had a sensation of weightlessness. My senses were clearly playing tricks on me. It was, in fact, a sort of welcoming screen. Of course, I didn’t understand anything that was being said or displayed on the screen—well, if I can call it that—because there was nothing there. It felt like all the letters and numbers were floating in a three-dimensional space, infinite and different from our own. Just another sensation. And one other was the scanning that the vehicle performed on me, attempting, according to what Fox told me, to establish a subconscious-level connection. I looked at her, wanting to ask where she got all this information from and ultimately how she ended up here, but I changed my mind when I saw her concentrated and serious expression. It was a look I knew well, one telling me that her intolerance for stupid questions, or any questions for that matter, in this case, was at its peak.
As I had decided that nothing would surprise me from now on, I also decided to enjoy the journey and what I encountered along the way. After all, just minutes—hours—days—or who knows how long had passed since we entered that portal, when I believed I could die at any moment, falling from the 15th floor, reality slamming my body into the asphalt with the speed reached in those two or three seconds of free fall. Instead of a possible death, I stumbled upon complete madness, and I confess that I liked it. It was a million times better than anything I had experienced before in my life and many times better than anything I could have encountered in my journey on Earth. Wherever I was now—paradise or purgatory, dream or crazy reality—it didn’t bother me. On the contrary, the feeling of happiness, which I had almost forgotten, began to make its presence felt without me even realizing it.
Fox was so preoccupied with initializing our vehicle that she seemed to have completely forgotten about me. I found it amusing to watch her and ask her an occasional odd question related to what she was doing: What did this button do? What did that command mean? Did you enter the coordinates now? Questions to which Fox responded with more of a feral grunt rather than an actual answer, but it was enough for me. Two minutes later, we were already in motion, and all around us, the projection of the outside reality was displayed, omitting the toxins and suffocating heat. I could see everything around me so clearly that I thought the projection was actually better than reality. No matter how much I tried to imagine how we looked from the outside, I couldn’t because, although I felt we were moving in a perfect line, without any swaying or tilting, somehow I thought that anyone who designed a vehicle with the appearance of a wild animal would have it move in the same way. So my senses and my reason were in contradiction, blurring my vision of the bear walking on the glass road.
‘I’d like to see how we look from the outside,’ I said to Fox when my curiosity became unbearable.
I immediately heard some noises, like small engines, somewhere in the back-left, and a few seconds later, a window opened above the 360-degree projection. It was a small window, slightly down and to the right, as if it didn’t want to spoil the view—which, by the way, was absolutely majestic: delicate reddish clouds, turning violet on the right, floated freely, covering the sea with a blood-red hue, sometimes even deeper, like a veil that sought to enhance its beauty through mystery; a sea completely divided by that gigantic bridge, which now began to shimmer indigo. In the small window, there was a close-up of a large, brown-black animal, with its fur fluttering in the wind, running steadily, but with speed. Behind it, desolation. I turned slightly in my seat to check if it was indeed the case. Barrenness behind us, barrenness ahead.